Missing: Women of Color in the Abortion Debate

The Republican leadership did not waste any time in renewing attacks on poor women’s access to reproductive health care. In fact, limiting abortion access for all women is one of their top three issues. However, while all women would face additional financial barriers accessing abortion care, women living day-to-day, many of whom are women of color, suffer disproportional impact.
H.R 3, ‘The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act’, is classist and racist, and will permanently codify the two-tier system of reproductive health care for the first time in our history. This bill should have all women of color groups up in arms. Instead many advocates for women narrowed their challenge to the bill on the outrageous effort to redefine the rape exemption in the legislation. But the true intention of H.R. 3 and other anti-abortion access and funding bills must not be ignored: to undermine women’s autonomy to make informed decisions and to deny women the ability to care for their families.
Anti-choice legislation targets an especially vulnerable community of women. Forty-two percent of women obtaining abortions have incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $10,830 for a single woman with no children. Due to systemic disparities that result in less access to quality education and wealth in this country, women of color and immigrant women are disproportionately low-income and are deeply impacted by barriers to health care. We know that women denied abortion coverage will postpone paying for other basic needs like food, rent, heating and utilities in order to save money needed for an abortion. Yet, not all are able to cobble together the necessary funds. Currently, 25 percent of poor women who want to access abortion services cannot because the federal government refuses to pay for the legal medical procedure.
When women do not have access to legal abortion, they are forced to seek affordable alternatives. As we saw in West Philadelphia earlier this year, poor women were pushed into the dark shadows when they could not access safe and legal abortion services. Those women found themselves in the hands of a man whose greed and disregard for women’s lives knew no bounds. The only reason a woman would seek an abortion from an unqualified person in a filthy clinic with untrained staff and improper equipment is because she had no choice.
This bill is more than just about the politics of being pro-choice or not. It is about fundamentally changing access to a medical health service that women desperately need.
Last week, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and the Reproductive Health Technologies Project organized a Congressional briefing on the impact of anti-choice legislation on women of color and immigrant women. The briefing was sponsored by an unprecedented number of Congress members from the Black, Latino and Asian Pacific Islander Causes, including Representatives Raúl Grijalva, Lee, Chu, Ellison, Cleaver, Honda, Sanchez, Moore, Hastings and Matsui. As part of the briefing, a small number of reproductive rights and women of color groups spoke on the need for fair and equal reproductive rights in the health care debate — groups like the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, National Women’s Law Center, National Network of Abortion Funds, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Black Women’s Health Imperative, and National Asian Pacific Women’s Forum.
While many of these congressional members are ardent advocates for civil rights issues, most have not historically championed pro-choice causes. But they have been moved to step up now. As Rep. Judy Chu (CA-32) noted in her hearing remarks, her constituents, from a majority-minority district in the Los Angeles area, are struggling with poverty and would be profoundly impacted by the anti-choice bills. Chu states, “Forcing women into the shadows of healthcare has never improved families or communities.”
We’re thrilled that Rep. Chu and others are making these connections. We need more women of color organizations and advocates beyond the reproductive health movement to change the debate. Without the participation of a broad range of women of color advocates, including immigrant and poor women, we will continue to have women’s health and women’s rights dictated by mostly white men of privilege for generations. As Miriam Yeung from the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum noted, “this fight is important for our daughters. I want my daughters to have the biggest and fullest lives they can have — including being fully recognized as moral beings capable of making their own moral choices.”
The very women who will suffer under the draconian ‘No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act’ must be heard and must have the power to make their own reproductive health decisions.
It’s time for all of us to stand up and support legislators who are fighting to stop this bill. The health and well-being of our women and girls are at stake. We need our communities to take the lead.
Follow Silvia Henriquez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NLIRH

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